One of the many (MANY) things that I love about our church is its commitment to being involved in our city, especially in the neighborhood around the church. Probably every church I’ve ever been a part of has had some form of outreach, but this church blows me away…and brings me to my knees, aware of my need to change and grow.
Our church is downtown, in an older part of the city. Over the last few years, over 100 families from the church have moved downtown, believing that God had called them to invest in those neighborhoods and in the lives of the people who live there. They bought homes, renovated them, got to know their neighbors, ministered to the neighbor kids and supported one another as fellow Christians AND neighbors.
The church also started a school for the underprivileged children in the area. The woman who teaches music there told me, “Children remember what they sing. My whole goal is to get as much scripture into those kids as I can, during the time that they are with me.” She’s a doctor’s wife who doesn’t need the income…she is investing in the families in her community, doing her best to make a difference in their lives.
The church has started a number of other ministries in the area: outreaches to the medical campus, to other campuses, a medical mission, a ministry for post-college students to minister downtown. It seems I learn about a new ministry every week.
Today the girls and I had a play date with a new friend, one of the families who lives downtown. She calmly – matter of factly! – told me stories of grilling out with the drug dealer who lived 2 doors down, and the drive-by shootings that have occurred on their street. Of busing kids to a summer camp in another state. Of children who come play at her house every day, though their parents don’t know her at all. I was amazed, blown away completely by the impact that these families have had on their community.
We came home, and some of our neighbor kids came over. One of them asked for a glass of milk, and I heard my daughter reply, “My mom doesn’t like neighbor kids to drink our milk. You can have water.”
It makes so much sense in my head (she can go home and get a drink!), but when I heard my child say it, especially in light of the conversations I had had that afternoon, I realized how far I have to go. I am not a generous person. I want to be, but I am not the kind of person who can show love to a drug dealer who is selling drugs to shady people two houses down from where my children sleep.
Apparently, I’m not even the kind of person who can share a glass of milk with the kid who lives across the street.
A couple of weekends ago, our neighbors had a yard sale. And, because children are drawn to other people’s junk like moths to a flame, my kids grabbed their wallets and ran over there to search for treasure. I walked over to say hello, and my neighbor confided that her husband had lost his job, and the yard sale was an attempt to keep the power on.
I felt sorry for them. I wanted to help. I thought – quite a lot, actually – about showing God’s love to my neighbors in a tangible way. I did buy them a pizza. But I couldn’t figure out what to do after that.
I mean, they have 5 cars in their driveway. Five. Why not sell one? (Or four.) They both smoke. Why not cut back on that expense? Maybe he did something really wrong to lose his job. Maybe they’ve made many, many poor decisions and helping them at this point is just enabling those bad decisions. What if I help them and they see “SUCKER” written across my forehead and take advantage of me?
I don’t for a minute think this is how Jesus wants me to think about helping others. But where is the line between helping someone and being taken advantage of? The line between investing in the community around you and endangering your family?
Maybe there isn’t a line. Jesus said if someone takes your coat, give them your shirt, too. Lord, forgive me. Teach me to be generous. Obviously, I have a long way to go.